Forest, Villa and the Biggest Underdog Wins in European Cup History

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Red Star Belgrade (1991)

Never in the history of the Champions League era has a team from outside the famous top five leagues ever even come close to getting their hands on the trophy. However, before the rebranding in 1993, every now and then teams from outside the biggest leagues in Europe would cause an upset and shock the biggest clubs in world football.

Not a soul thought Red Star Belgrade would go all the way to the top in 1991, given how they were a team of young Serbians who didn't really come close to giants of world football at the time, and how 1991 was the start of the Yugoslav Wars which crippled nations like Serbia.

Red Star's route to the final was a little easier than other triumphs on this list, but they still had to get past Scottish champions Rangers, Dynamo Dresden and the-then three-time European champions, Bayern Munich.

What made all this even more impressive was not just the fact their own country was in utter chaos, but how they beat one of the best teams in all over Europe in the early 1990s in the final, Marseille. The French champions were heavy favourites in the final and backed in to win the entire thing earlier in the competition.

However, a bunch of youngsters from Serbia beat them in the final on penalties. If this isn't the biggest upset in European Cup final history, it's without question one of, if no the greatest story ever witnessed on this stage.

Nottingham Forest (1978-80)

Despite winning the 1979 edition of the European Cup managed by the charismatic and legendary Brian Clough alongside his long-serving assistant Peter Taylor, Nottingham Forest were by no means considered a favourite to retain their crown at the top of the European pyramid.

Opening their defence of the trophy against weak opposition in Swedish side Oster, Clough's men got off to the perfect start with a 3-1 win over the two legs before booking their place in the round of 16 for a clash against another little-known opposition Arges Pitesti. The Romanian team again provided little to no competition for Forest, who continued their surge deep into the competition, where they finally faced a worthy opponent in BFC Dinamo.

Forest lost the first leg at the City Ground 1-0 but then turned the game on its head in Berlin, winning on aggregate 3-2 to set up a massive semi-final clash against Ajax. Goals from the first £1m player Trevor Francis and John Robertson in Nottingham saw Clough's men take a lead to Amsterdam before a goal from Soren Lerby set up for a tense finish that the Reds managed to withstand, meaning they would face Hamburg in the final. 

Germany's Hamburg had future England manager and Ballon d'Or winner Kevin Keegan in their team. Still, Clough's star winger, John Robertson, separated the two sides when his drilled shot from outside the area was enough to beat the German champions after 20 minutes, securing an unlikely and unprecedented second European Cup in as many seasons.

To this day, no club in English football has achieved that feat, with Manchester United coming the closest when they lost their title in the final against Barcelona in 2009.

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Borussia Dortmund (1997)

Borussia Dortmund went into the 1996/97 Champions League season off the back of winning the Bundesliga. Despite being Germany's finest, they were far from a favourite amongst the bookmakers going into Europe's elite competition. 

Dortmund, managed by Ottmar Hitzfeld, were drawn in a group containing Atletico Madrid, Steaua Bucuresti, and Widzew Lodz, where they finished second to Atletico. After cruising into the knockout stages, they faced little-known French club Auxerre and routinely dispatched them with a comfortable 4-1 win on aggregate in the quarter-finals. 

However, Dortmund would finally face a stern challenge in Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United in the semi-finals, where they were undisputed underdogs over two legs. Despite this, Hitzfeld's men performed admirably. They came out victorious at both the Signal Iduna Park and Old Trafford with 1-0 victories, seeing them through to the final to face Italian giants Juventus after they beat Ajax.

A quick-fire brace from Karl-Heinz Reidle in the first half stunned the Italian champions, who were littered with quality in the likes of Zinedine Zidane and Alessandro Del Piero. A goal from Del Piero put the result into doubt in the 66th minute. Still, youngster Lars Ricken came on and nonchalantly chipped Juve goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi to confirm an unlikely Champions League win.

Chelsea (2012)

Despite being 3-1 down to a strong Napoli side in the round of 16, Chelsea managed an incredible turnaround at Stamford Bridge with a 4-1 victory after extra time, seeing them progress to the quarter-finals. In the last eight, the Blues faced their most straightforward test, Benfica, and cruised into the last four with a 3-1 victory to set up a clash with legendary club side Barcelona in a daunting tie.

Roberto Di Matteo's team took a solid 1-0 lead to the Nou Camp through a Drogba strike on the stroke of halftime. However, with John Terry being sent off in the second leg after kneeing Alexis Sanchez, the Blues were on the cusp of elimination after Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta turned the tie on its head. Despite this, while defending incredibly deep, the Blues found a goal through Ramires to put them back in the driving seat, and dramatically, Fernando Torres scored the breakaway goal in stoppage time to send the club into the final.

Chelsea faced Bayern Munich in the final, and coincidently, in their own backyard at the Allianz Arena. Despite having the odds stacked against them again, the game went all the way to penalties after a late Drogba header cancelled out a Thomas Muller goal. Petr Cech continued his Champions League heroics by stopping an Arjen Robben penalty deep into extra time to take the game to penalties.

After an incredible run, it seemed destiny that the man who was arguably the most instrumental in Chelsea's tournament, Didier Drogba, to take the winning spot-kick. The Ivorian cooly slotted past Manuel Neuer to secure Chelsea's long wait for European glory.


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Porto (2004)

Porto's 2004 triumph remains arguably the most impressive feat in the Champions League era, as even the likes of Chelsea and Dortmund in their respective years were still a force to be reckoned with. Porto, on the other hand, had many unknown players on the biggest stage and an unknown manager at the time in the shape of Jose Mourinho.

What made Porto's 2004 win all the more impressive was their path to victory, as they advanced out of a group with Real Madrid and Marseille and also beat the likes of Lyon and Manchester United over two legs to eventually beat Monaco 3-0 in the final.

Mourinho's side was also almost entirely homegrown, with nine of the starting XI in the final coming from Portugal, with stars like Ricardo Carvalho and Deco making a name for themselves with stellar performances throughout.

Porto were one of the huge outsiders to win the Champions League, with the likes of AC Milan, Arsenal, United, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich all possessing ridiculously talented sides, and it remains, to this day, perhaps the most impressive overturn of the odds in Champions League history.

Aston Villa (1982)

After a relatively simple first-round draw of Icelandic champions, FC Valur Reykjavik, Aston Villa cruised into the second round to face Union Berlin. In the midst of the events surrounding the Berlin wall, Ron Saunders men took an unlikely 2-1 lead back to Villa Park thanks to a spectacular Tony Morley double before finally confirming their place in the quarter-final with a nervy 1-0 loss back on home turf, which saw Villa squeeze through on the away goals ruling. 

Despite Villa progressing, the majority shareholder at Villa, Ron Bendall, turned to chief scout Tony Barton to take the reigns after Villa's poor league form, which resulted in Saunders leaving shortly after the Dynamo Berlin tie. 
Barton's first fixture in the competition was the daunting test against Dynamo Kyiv in the quatre final, a team who would supply the USSR with eight players in the 1982 World Cup. However, Villa passed the test with relative ease winning 2-0 on aggregate and set up a clash with Anderlecht in the process.

In the final, Villa faced European giants Bayern Munich, a team that boasted the 1981 Ballon d'Or winner Karl Heinz Rummenigge. With the odds already heavily stacked against them, Villa lost veteran goalkeeper Jimmy Rimmer early through injury, with 23-year-old Nigel Spink replacing him on the biggest of stage. Despite the loss of their keeper, Spink put in a Man of the Match performance, denying the Germans on several occasions. Before Villa found their winning goal after a Tony Morley run, found Villa's big centre-forward Peter Withe at the back post to secure an unlikely European cup win in Rotterdam.

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Steaua București (1986)

Things were a little different in the 1980s in European football. For large parts, English clubs were not able to compete due to their five-year ban, which saw famous First Division sides like Everton, Liverpool and Arsenal unable to compete in the competition, of which they would have been one of the favourites to do so.

Across the rest of Europe, leagues that we don't tend to see so often on the big stage, like the divisions of Sweden, Scotland and Finland all managed to get far in the competition. However, it was Steaua București of Romania that would go all the way in 1986.

The club had a much easier run to the final than anyone else, which makes this triumph not the most shocking in itself, but they were still massive outsiders to do so. București beat Vejle Boldklub, Budapest Honved, Lahti and Anderlecht on route to the final in the knockout rounds, before meeting Barcelona in the final.

The final itself was fairly lacklustre, but after wins over Porto, Sparta Prague and Juventus, the club were massive favourites to lift their first-ever European title. The game went to penalties, and București would seal the deal thanks to Helmuth Duckadam, who astonishingly saved all four of Barcelona's penalties, as the Romanian side scored two of their own.

By Harry Charlwood

Marseille (1993)

French champions Marseille were the first and unlikely winners of the newly-formed Champions League in the 1992/93 season under manager Raymond Goethals in a team that boasted the likes of Rudi Voller, Didier Deschamps, and Marcel Desailly.

With Marseille winning their qualifying games against both Glentoran and Dinamo Bucaresti, Goethals men were placed into a group containing Rangers, Club Brugge, and CSKA Moscow, the winner of which would face the winner of Group B. Victories against Club Brugge both home and away, and CSKA Moscow at home, they managed to top the group after drawing both games with Glasgow Rangers, which means that they would face Group B winners and European juggernaut AC Milan in the final of the competition.

AC Milan possessed a star-studded squad with the likes of Marco van Basten and Franco Baresi, meaning they went into the final as strong favourites over their French counterparts. Despite this, Marseille put in a strong defensive performance, and coincidently it was a defender that separated the two sides when Basile Boli headed in the only goal of the game in the 38th minute — making Marseille the first and only French team to win the European Cup.


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